Girl In the Cadillac: Love on the Run, Starring William McNamara and Erika Eleniak

Palm Springs Film Fest, Jan. 12, 1995–Two appealing performers, William McNamara and Erika Eleniak, occupy the center of Girl in the Cadillac, an amiable, if also slight and derivative, variation on the perennial theme of “Love on the Run.”

Pic’s charm and generous heart, which triumph over incongruous characterization and pandering finale, will facilitate theatrical distribution and support from young viewers.

Though loosely adapted from James M. Cain’s Depression novella, thematically, Girl in the Cadillac owes more to such youth-angst movies as “Rebels Without a Cause,” and romantic road pictures like Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, and most recently GunCrazy.

Amanda “Mandy” Baker (Eleniak) is a 17-year-old free-spirit, seeking an adventure that will liberate her from an unfulfilling life in Paint Rock, Texas, a suffocating small-town. She lives with her mother, Tilly (Valerie Perrine), who out of her own desperation leaves Lamar (William Shockley) her thug of a b.f, and marries Ben (Ed Lauter), an older rich man who promises to provide a better life for her and Mandy.

At the bus station, setting out for Corpus Cristi, Mandy meets Rick Davis (McNamara), a handsome if somewhat arrogant cowboy, who thinks he’s smart and sexy. Out of naive curiosity, Mandy lends him $17 for a one-way ticket to Utopia, a layover stop.

In Utopia, Rick introduces Mandy to his “Uncle” Pal (Michael Lerner), a failed crook, and Bud (Bud Cort), his weird sidekick. It doesn’t take long before Mandy is talked into participating in a bank robbery for a tidy sum of $5000. When the heist turns into a fiasco, Rick and Mandy manage to escape with all the loot, but Pal and Bud follow in hot pursuit.

The central–and best–chapters are those describing the delirious couple on a shopping spree, checking in at a lush hotel, buying a red convertible Cadillac–living the good life.

Writer Warren, who collaborated on the script of Naked in New York, lacks a clear conception of his characters and, worse, doesn’t know how to end his tale. As a “solution,” he conjures up a bunch of worn cliches that betray the intent of his narrative. Indeed, Warren can’t decide how “bad” his protagonists are, even if it’s clear they are not the criminal type. Despite macho bravado and a dash of kleptomania, Rick is basically a good boy. Nor does Warren explain the nature of his heroes’ rebellion or angst; what Rick and Mandy seem to enjoy most is buying fancy clothes and parading around in them.

But the script’s shortcomings are winningly camouflaged by helmer Platt, who here makes an impressive feature debut, after working on a number of documentaries with Jonathan Demme (Cousin Bobby, Secrets from the Dolly Madison Room).

Keeping the movie lightweight, even when the writing is heavy-handed, Platt shows affection for his characters. He evidences taste and skill in staging the story’s varying incidents and in controlling the physical movement of his players, particularly McNamara.

Though looking older than her character, Eleniak acquits herself with a convincing performance–no minor achievement, considering her character begins as a modern-day Lolita and within days evolves into a responsible, mature woman.

The film’s revelation, though, is McNamara, who looks and even acts a bit like Brad Pitt. Carrying off his cowboy role with physical exuberance and verbal charm, McNamara sparkles, keeping the movie afloat even in its weaker moments.

Tech credits of low-budgeter are proficient on all levels, with lenser Schreiber in top form. Her impressive long shots convey the vastness of the land, so important in a road movie, and her sensuous camera contributes immeasurably to pic’s sexual allure.